Newsletter for Sunday 11 February 2024

9 Feb

Our Lady of Lourdes

Today is the World Day of Prayer for the Sick and, were it not a Sunday, we would be celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Lourdes must be the most famous apparition and pilgrimage site of Our Lady in the world and many of you have visited there. Countless healings and miracles in both body and soul take place there all the time.

St Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) was born into a very poor family, and on the morning of 11th February 1858, as she went out with her sister to collect some firewood, Our Lady appeared to her in a grotto. There were 18 apparitions in all and Our Lady asked for two simple things: prayer and penance for sinners, and for a chapel to be built there.

In one of the apparitions Our Lady instructed Bernadette to drink from the spring and wash herself there. Bernadette didn’t have a clue what Our Lady was talking about since there was no spring, but Our Lady pointed to the exact spot. Bernadette began to dig in the ground and wipe herself with the mud, and everyone thought she had gone completely mad. They were astonished when shortly after, water began to flow from the very spot where she had been digging. And within just a few days people were claiming cures as a result of using this water. Cures continue there to this day.  

Bernadette’s Parish Priest, Fr Peyramale, was at first, very sceptical about the apparitions, and told her to ask this Lady to identify herself and give her name. So on 25th March 1858, the Feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette asked the Lady who she was, and she gave the wonderful answer, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette didn’t understand what this meant. She wasn’t a theologian. In fact, she was very ignorant, and neither was the dogma of the Immaculate Conception something well known at the time. It is a dogma of the Church that Our Lady, through no merits of her own, but because of the Divine Son she was to bring into this world, was preserved from the stain of Original Sin, and from all personal sin from the moment of her conception. So as Bernadette made her way from the grotto to the presbytery to tell her Parish Priest, she kept repeating these words over and over again in case she forgot them. She rushed into the presbytery and said, “The Lady said, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’!” The priest was stunned, and it was an emotional moment for him, because he knew Bernadette wasn’t educated, and for her to be able to give this title of Our Lady, was for him a proof of the genuineness of the apparition.

We tend to focus on the miraculous healings of the body which take place at Lourdes and there are many. But even more miraculous are the conversions and the healing of souls which take place there. Even if you can’t go there, you can still receive the benefits of Lourdes by invoking Our Lady under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes and her Immaculate Conception.

Bernadette was persecuted from every side – by her family who forbade her from going to the grotto and also by the civil authorities by whom she was imprisoned. She was also persecuted by the religious authorities, and when she became a nun, one of the sisters was very unkind to her. Our Lady told her, “I do not promise to make you happy in this life, but only in the next”, which is a reminder to the modern world, that this life only has meaning and relevance as a preparation for the next – that is for eternity. Our Lady consoled Bernadette and gave her the strength to face these trials and to carry the heavy load of the cross.

As we begin Lent this Wednesday, we can ask Our Lady of Lourdes to help us carry our crosses, to make them less burdensome, and to give us the courage and strength of perseverance in adversity. And let us never forget how much Our Lady loves us, and that she wants us to be with her and JESUS in Heaven.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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